Poole Hospital achieves ‘fantastic milestone’ with tattoo-free radiotherapy

Therapeutic radiographers at Poole Hospital have been using new photographic technology to do away with the need for guidance tattoos

Published: 12 January 2024 Radiotherapy

Thousands of patients at Poole Hospital have not needed permanent tattoos as part of their radiotherapy treatment thanks to a new innovation. 

During the normal process, radiographers may be required to make between one and five permanent pinpoint tattoo marks on the patient’s skin. 

These marks are used to line up the radiotherapy machine for each treatment, ensuring the same area is targeted every time, as the radiation can damage non-cancerous cells.

With its brand-new ‘surface-guided’ radiotherapy treatment system, Pool Hospital, one of three managed by University Hospitals Dorset (UHD), has done away entirely with the need for these small tattoos.

'A fantastic milestone'

This technology uses a series of cameras and image sensors to create a skin map of the individual patient instead. This is combined with detailed treatment planning scans to ‘lock in’ a target site.

If a patient moves during the therapy, and the tumour moves out of the targeted area, the entire beam turns off.

While the trust has been using the surface guided radiotherapy for two years, the team has now gone tattooless for all cancers for the first time.

David Frost, head of therapy radiography at UHD, said: “One of our trust values is ‘always improving’, and here at UHD we are using the latest technology to do that for the benefit of our patients. While the tattoos assisted our treatment, they often had a negative psychological impact on our patients and were a permanent physical reminder of being unwell. For some of our patients it was also the first tattoo they ever had.

“This surface guided technology is quicker, more accurate and can allow a reduced imaging dose for our patients, reducing the level of radiation. Going tattooless is a fantastic milestone for all of us to reach.”

'The feedback has been really positive'

This tattoo-less treatment is mostly only offered in private centres, with UHD becoming the first trust in the south-west to offer the service.

The team also manages a system from the Robert White Centre at Dorset Country Hospital in Dorchester, named after multi-millionaire businessman Robert White, who gifted Poole Hospital more than £10m to advance cancer treatment in the county before his death in 2015.

UHD carries out around 25,000 radiotherapy treatments each year, and the team supports around 130 patients every day. Some 210 new patients start their treatment every month, attending the department for five treatment sessions each week.

Josh Naylor, physicist in the department, said: “We get to know our patients really well during the course of their treatment and the feedback has been really positive. We’re really proud to be able to offer this to them and look forward to more improvements that benefit our patients in the future.”

(Image: Pool Hospital radiotherapy team, via University Hospitals Dorset)